Have you ever heard someone say they just love to go to meetings? Nope, I haven’t either. Here is why: You can find pages of advice on running an effective meeting - managing the agenda, the time, side-conversations, papers and reports, pre-defined objectives, concise action steps. Efficient logistically to be sure, but … where is the “human” piece?
The essential purpose of a meeting is to bring a team together to interact, bounce around ideas, discuss, and glean valuable results toward achieving a common goal. If that group is not encouraged to engage and participate, then ideas and interactions don’t surface, and the meeting becomes simply reporting and rehashing.
This is when I ask the question: “Why did you hire this creative, expert talent if you’re not using it?”
Prepare for the behavioral aspects of your meeting, not just the logistics. People are expected to enter the meeting, bring instant focus to the subject matter, and jump into the group dynamic with no warm-up or warning. The outcome? It becomes very easy to stay distracted and not fully present, and end up mindlessly going through the motions rather than participate.
The Idea: “mindfulness”
When we work with our client teams, no meeting or workshop starts without an opening exercise to bring mindfulness into the room. For some teams that takes very little time (seconds), and for other teams it can be worth as much time as it takes. What does a mindfulness opening do for a meeting?
- People start to forget everything outside that room, the stresses and distractions they had before are left at the door.
- They get a subtle prompt that being present in this room, doing this thing, is important.
- Creates “space,” an expansiveness in the room for things to happen - ideas, creativity, interactions with others that bring out new directions and new ways of thinking.
- Increases oxytocin, a powerful hormone that stimulates social interaction, empathy, generosity.
- Bonus: Strengthens the team and their work with each other long after the meeting ends.
I've noticed that some of the teams I work with don't need a stand-alone practice to start a meeting. In these teams there has developed a practiced norm that encourages mindfulness when the team simply arrives together. They live in the zone many of us wish we could find in our meetings every day. For those not finding themselves in that zone, here's a tool:
The Tool: Mindful Meeting Opening
A simple opening exercise goes a long way to bring mindfulness and stimulate engagement. Here are just a few examples that we’ve used successfully.
Start with greeting and welcoming everyone. Then invite them to stop, close their eyes if they wish, and take a deep breath (5 breaths is a good number to really bring them into the room). Very simple and very powerful.
Ask a simple question.
Ask a simple, non-threatening and not-too-personal question to the group. Questions are designed to shift their mind calmly into the present time and space. You can choose for them to answer by sharing aloud to the group, in pairs, or silently to themselves. Examples:
- “What is your favorite [relevant holiday or seasonal] memory?”
- “Think of someone you know and care about. You won’t be asked to reveal who it is. Take 5 seconds to think about them, then wish that person happiness.”
- "Please simply observe the space around you, and name silently to yourself 7 things you see. What do you notice about those things?”
Notice what you notice.
Another take on the “observe the space around you” exercise: Have your team split up into pairs. Instruct them to take turns doing this noticing and naming aloud to their partner (while the partner intently listens) - what first comes to mind and in a continuous stream for 2 minutes without stopping. When the two have taken their turns, ask them to spend a couple of minutes talking with each other about the experience they just had.
You could then bring it back to the larger group and spend a couple of minutes pulling out the learning. What just happened? What kind of things did you notice? Did this help you be present in this room in this moment in this time? That’s it – short and simple and amazing to see the buzz it can create…
Note: My Resologics team is trained to facilitate these kinds of exercises, understand group dynamics, and expect and address any emotions or disturbance that may come up. Learning this kind of group facilitation is a nuanced - and teachable - skill. If you have never done this before, take it a step at a time until you become comfortable with your ability as well as the nature of the team. Or bring in a facilitator to conduct this part of your gathering.
Closing a meeting mindfully
Have you ever attended a meeting that just closed abruptly, no check-in, or not even a “thank you” or “good-bye?” You might have left feeling vaguely unheard, unappreciated, not very motivated. Be mindful when you close your meetings, by acknowledging your team for their contributions, checking in to see that everyone is on the same page and, by all means, saying “thank you.”
Leaders know the connections between productivity and positivity. We know a connected team is a motivated team is a high-performing team. So let’s mindfully build these concepts into our teams whenever they are gathered.
If you’d like to talk more about building a high-performing team, please feel free to schedule a conversation with us here.